Hives can manifest themselves as small red itchy bumps in spots and patches, typically limited to small areas but also appearing in large areas throughout the skin's surface. A single hive can be as small as a pencil top. Groups of hives sometimes form together to create structures called plaques. Hives can result from an allergic reaction to environmental stimuli, but sometimes occur for unknown reasons. Hives typically appear on the surface of the skin, but can develop below skin in a condition called angioendema.

Angioendema is characterized by swelling that occurs beneath the surface of the skin (as opposed to bumps and patches occurring on the surface of the skin). This swelling typically appears around the eyes and lips, and sometimes even on the hands, feet, and genitals.

Rare cases of swelling in the area of the neck and throat can cause life-threatening breathing difficulty. Hives, often called uriticaria typically only last 24 hours. Angioendema, on the other hand, can last for weeks or even months.

Types of Hives

Acute hives or angioendema are generally caused by irritants, foods, medicines, insect bites, latex, and even internal disease. Foods that often trigger hives in some people include:

  • Chocolate
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Tomatoes
  • Nuts
  • Wheat
  • Milk
  • Fresh Berries

Fresh food and certain food additives seem to result in hives outbreaks more often. Medicines that can cause this condition include ibuprofen, aspirin, high blood pressure medications, and pain killers such as codeine. Symptoms of hives differ based on the type, some of which include:

  • Physical Uriticaria: hives that occur when there is direct physical stimulation of the skin. This includes cold, sweat, heat, vibration, sun exposure, heat, and even exercise. These hives generally occur one hour after the simulative event occurs. They often only appear where the physical contact occurs and nowhere else.

  • Dermatographism: occurs after firm or prolonged scratching of the skin. This form of hives can occur simultaneously with other forms of hives.

  • Hereditary Angioendema: a painful condition typically passed down through families. It is typically characterized by the swelling of skin tissue.

Hives are typically caused by allergens, and other environmental factors such as medicines, foods ingested, and skin irritants. Hives, while annoying, itchy, and even painful are generally not life threatening. If a patient is concerned about this condition then doctors and/or other medical professionals can perform blood tests to isolate the problem and to see if there is a life threatening illness behind these symptoms.

Treating Hives and Angioendema


Chronic Hives are often treated with combinations of drugs such as antihistamines. A typical over-the-counter remedy is diphenhydramine, often known by the brand name Benadryl. Often, this medicine causes drowsiness and should be used with care if driving or operating heavy machinery. If it is an angioendemic outbreak, steroid injections are often administered.

When treating an area with hives, apply the following steps:

  1. Use lukewarm water and a gentle, mild soap on the area

  2. Apply cool cloths and/or wet cloths to the infected area(s)

  3. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothes

  4. Sleep in a cool room

If you experience dizziness, wheezing, difficulty breathing, tightness of chest, and/or swelling of the lip or face, contact your doctor immediately as these might be signs of a more serious condition.